There's just something about old holiday television specials that sets the mood for Christmas. For decades, Rankin/Bass Productions created some of most beloved seasonal short films, bringing families together to watch year after year as soon as the Christmas season begins. If you're looking to continue the holiday tradition, you're in luck: AMC is hosting more than a dozen Rankin/Bass specials on amc.com and the AMC apps now through December 31st with AMC's Best Christmas Ever, a holiday movie spectacular featuring hours of Christmas movies, specials and more.
But with so many Rankin/Bass Christmas films to choose from, where should you begin? Here's a list of our top Rankin/Bass Christmas specials streaming on AMC:
One of the quintessential Rankin/Bass specials, it just doesn't feel like Christmas without a visit to the Miser brothers and watching Santa himself renew his Christmas spirit. When Santa comes down with a cold, his doctor tells him to take it easy, suggesting that no one cares about him anymore anyway, so there's no harm in sitting this Christmas out. Much to Mrs. Claus's dismay, Santa decides to take Christmas off. This prompts Mrs. Claus, two elves and the young reindeer, Vixen, to set off to find proof that people still believe in Santa. Magical hijinks ensue (of course). Featuring fun musical numbers and stop-motion animation from Rankin/Bass's prime, The Year Without a Santa Claus is a charming reminder that Christmas is a time to love and appreciate the people you care about. Watch The Year Without a Santa Claus here.
Rudolph's Shiny New Year is a sequel film that picks right up after the events of Rudolph's the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Instead of taking a break to bask in the red glow of saving Christmas, Rudolph is tasked to save another holiday: New Years. Except now, instead of saving the Christmas spirit, Rudolph is literally trying to save time itself. When the Baby New Year disappears, Rudolph teams up with a cast of bizarre characters (including "Sev," a.k.a. the year 1776, who bears a striking resemblance to Benjamin Franklin) to traverse the "Archipelago of Last Years" in order to find him before the final bell tolls on December 31 and time stops forever. It's pretty action packed for an animated Christmas special! Watch Rudolph's Shiny New Year here.
The movie's title might be a mouthful, but the story is short and sweet. Lucas, a young shepherd, loses his sight after being struck by lightning just as the Christmas season is beginning. He's taken in by nuns, who describe the Christmas snow to him. Some Christmas miracles ensue, of course, and with narration by beloved actress Angela Lansbury, this one is worth a Christmastime watch. Stream The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow here.
Produced in a hand drawn animation style, this film might not jump out as a Rankin/Bass movie, but it still ranks up there with their notable stop-motion works. In the 1974 special based on the famous poem, the small town of Junctionville, New York gets all of their letters to Santa back in the mail — unopened. Turns out, a small nonbeliever (a mouse, in fact) has penned an anonymous letter to Santa in the town's newspaper calling Santa a "fraudulent myth," signed "All of Us," which offends ole Saint Nick. The town rallies to show Santa they care, while the mouse family tries to convince the unbelieving Albert of the power in believing. Featuring some catchy musical numbers, Twas the Night Before Christmas is a charming reminder that there's more to the holiday spirit than what you can see. Watch Twas the Night Before Christmas here.
5. Jack Frost
Jack Frost is narrated by a groundhog (really) to share a moving backstory of the oft-maligned winter sprite. In this special, Jack Frost falls in love with a human woman, Elisa, and begs Father Winter to turn him into a human to be with her. Father Winter complies — temporarily — but with a price: Jack must prove he can actually succeed as a human by getting a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife before the winter is over, or else he'll turn back into an invisible magical sprite. (Anyone else feel like this bar is too high...?) But Jack is happy to jetset to the ground as a human and woo his lady love. Things get heated, though, when Elisa is kidnapped by miserable old king, Kubla Kraus, and Jack is forced to consider sacrificing his humanity to save her and his friends. It's maybe one of the only Christmas specials without a gift-wrapped ending, but Jack Frost is even better for it. Watch Jack Frost here.
Santa Claus's origin story is perhaps most memorably told in another Rankin/Bass special Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, but did you know that the production company actually made another Saint Nick origin film? And boy, this one is wild. It plays like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with an errant player who decided that Santa Claus totally counts as a fantasy character. In the film, Santa Claus is raised by a lion and a fairy after he's discovered as an infant in a magical forest forbidden to humans. And it only gets more bizarre from there. But its high fantasy eccentricity is so weird that it becomes enchanting. Watch The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus here.
At first glance, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey seems like a bootleg Rudolph story: a steed is bullied for being different, sets off on their own, overcomes a series of trials and discovers that their "imperfections" make them the perfect candidate to save the day. But Nestor is brimming with pure pathos, as the film doesn't shy away from taking some dark turns — before Nestor is celebrated as the mule that bears Mary to Bethlehem. If you're looking for a bit of a tearjerker with a happy ending, check out Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey here.
These Rankin/Bass specials and more are available to watch with a cable login on amc.com and the AMC apps now through December 31st. Got an Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One or Fire TV? You’re in luck! Download the AMC app and start streaming them on your television right away. Looking for some Christmas cheer on the go? You can also watch the Claus family on your mobile device with the AMC mobile app, available for iOS, Android, Windows and Fire Tablets. Plus, even more films are available to stream on AMC+, the company’s premium subscription bundle (currently available to Comcast Xfinity, DISH and Sling TV customers. and with Apple TV Channels and Amazon Prime Video Channels).
Check out the full schedule here to see when your other favorite holiday movies are airing on AMC. Don’t want to wait? Take a look at our full holiday offering of Christmas movies on amc.com and the AMC apps.
For more details on AMC’s Best Christmas Ever holiday movie spectacular, sign up for the AMC Insiders’ Club.